Mayan Chocolate Extrait de Parfum by Aether Arts Perfume Review
Ever since I was in first grade I’ve been fascinated by Xocoatl, the unsweetened chocolate drink of the ancient Mayans. Around that time — first grade, not the time of ancient Maya — I’d read a nonfiction passage about the stuff in a Wordly Wise 3000 book, that infinite treasure trove of moderately interesting scientific and cultural knowledge.
The other passage that really sticks in my mind to this day was one about why penguins can’t fly, how we got here from an evolutionary standpoint, and their flighted proto-penguin ancestors. Flying penguins and bitter chocolate. I thought about these two things all day.
It’s something I’ve always been curious to see presented in perfume form, so I was absolutely delighted to see that adroit nose Amber Jobin from Aether Arts Perfume has created exactly that (and won a 2022 Arts and Olfaction Artisan Award for it, no less).
And I was positively over the moon when she sent me a sample of the fragrance.
Right out of the vial, there’s a little pleasant sharpness to Mayan Chocolate. It’s like the sharp powdery edge of a freshly opened container of hot cocoa. Except this isn’t powdery. It’s just chocolatey in a way that’s melty-rich and bitter all at once.
At moments things feel almost floral, grassy, buttery. They’re fleeting, flitting notes and textures, not exactly front and center. But I smell something like fresh, bright green grass hiding somewhere in the opening, and some kind of flowers.
And there’s a texture here that feels almost buttery to me. It isn’t the literal smell of butter, but rather a certain curling sourness paired with the softness of the cocoa notes makes me think of rich, salted Kerrygold Irish butter. Butter CO2 is the type of note people disclose because it makes a perfume not vegan, so I know for sure there’s no actual butter note in there. It’s just a texture thing.
One thing that feels almost grassy to me, and oddly buttery, too, is a facet of something that feels like black pepper.
I don’t smell anything outright in Mayan Chocolate that makes me think directly of peppers, but there’s a familiar sort of almost-grassy, almost-buttery sharpness that I reconstruct to be something like black pepper. There’s a sort of soft and sour buttery texture in it.
Black pepper always surprises me with its coolness. I always think of pepper as a warm spice, but it often feels cool as a cucumber, lazy and smooth. It almost feels aquatic to me, fresh in a way that’s blue and cool yet impertinently piquant. There’s also a smoothness to it all that often reminds me of butter, a sour and salty sort of butter.
I’d encountered a very similar blue-aquatic-buttery sort of black pepper note in another fragrance I’ve not yet reviewed. It was a painfully simple sandalwood and black pepper cologne and I was struggling to come up with anything interesting to write about it.
But I’m very glad I tried it. Without that experience, I might not have identified this accord as something like intense, pungent black pepper. Rather, I’d say it was grass and butter and something almost watery, and a very sharp, nose-scratching sort of spice that somehow has a cooling effect.
And now, looking at the note pyramid information for the perfume, I see that that grassy greenish texture isn’t just a quirk of that black-peppery note after all. No, while the two are quite intertwined in the spicy twang of the opening, it seems there are green notes listed in Mayan Chocolate as well.
Truthfully, to my nose, I don’t pick up much greenness except for that burst of something like grass in the opening.
But, yes, apart from the black pepper, there are other spices at play that feel warmer. In particular, there’s the hot, red, dry smokiness of paprika warming up and lifting the accord. It’s such a burnishing, smoked sort of spicy note that it blends beautifully with the incense notes in the base.
That paprika is also what lends Mayan Chocolate much of its absolutely gorgeous color. I don’t often comment on the color of fragrances, but that deep, rich vermillion-red is just so beautiful it deserves mentioning.
And there’s something here that makes me think of chili peppers, though it’s not the pungent red punch I’d expect. Perhaps it’s the marriage of what feels to me like black pepper and the dry desert warmth of paprika that produces that effect without actually being eye-wateringly spicy.
Mayan Chocolate lacks the prominent red vegetal sharpness I’ve smelled in some other pepper notes, like the faint but formative pimento note in Maison Margiela’s Soul of the Forest. Perhaps there’s a hint of fresh pepper in there somewhere, but the peppery notes here feel much more dried and powdered to me than fresh and oozing with juices. These are dry spicy notes, carefully preserved flavors reassembled for kings rather than fresh fruit picked from the vine.
This is a perfume that smells like spices, and it’s quite textured and warm, but no part of it feels spicy in a way that’s intolerably piquant. I guess it’s hard to make a perfume that’s spicy in the same way a taste can be spicy. Without the help of our taste buds, we’re left smelling the nuances of each spice without any sort of painful kick.
All this is to say that you shouldn’t let disliking spicy food deter you from trying spicy perfumes.
The heart of the chocolate accord here smells pleasantly to me of cocoa butter. It’s a little like Palmer’s cocoa butter formula, a drugstore cocoa butter product whose richness and aroma I adore. Mayan Chocolate isn’t nearly as rich, sweet, and cocoa-buttery-smooth as all that, but the hint of sweetness in the chocolate accord is reminiscent of it.
Mayan Chocolate is billed as an unsweetened sort of cocoa scent. And, indeed, this isn’t sweet like any other chocolate perfume on the market. Still, there is a faint, rich sweetness at play in the cocoa. It feels natural, right at home, not like a dose of added sugar.
This is similar to how I felt about the sweetness in Zoologist’s Bee. Even though that perfume is infinitely sweeter than this one, the sweetness felt natural. Like it belonged there. Like it was an innate part of the materials and the theme. I feel the same about the much more muted dose of warm, smooth cocoa butter sweetness in the middle of Mayan Chocolate. It feels like it’s just a part of the cocoa materials, not an excessive pouring of sticky sugar granules.
Here and there, for a moment I detect in Mayan Chocolate something that smells just a little bit floral. It’s a shy sort of floral note, never coming forward, playing instead in the background. It’s something that floats out among the progressively softer and cocoa-butterier chocolate notes from about thirty minutes in onward.
After looking over the note pyramid, I venture to guess it’s orchid. Since orchid is a fantasy note of a flower that really doesn’t smell like much of anything, that doesn’t tell you much. All I can say is that there’s a faint, gentle flowery note ducking in and out of the chocolate fountain. It’s quite lovely, showing up at the nadir of a breath when you least expect it. I catch myself wishing for a little more of it.
In cooler weather, that soft, delicate suggestion of a vanillic sort of floral accord becomes much more prominent. The rich, cocoa-buttery chocolate sweetness multiplies, growing louder and deeper and richer. The spices are hardly prominent at all to my nose in the cold, where this is an incredibly comforting chocolate perfume.
In warmer environments, on the other hand, the spices are squarely front and center, with that black-pepper-like piquancy making a significant mark on Mayan Chocolate, particularly through the first couple of hours.
By three to four hours in, the spices have mostly (but not entirely) faded, leaving an increasingly luxuriant soft chocolate in their wake. There’s remarkable restraint displayed in keeping the drydown from ever getting excessively sweet-chocolate-vanilla-gourmand. Instead, that rich, buttery, yet not-too-sweet chocolate goes gradually in a smokier direction.
The smoky timbre of the paprika makes for an absolutely flawless transition into the incense notes at the base of Mayan Chocolate. I legitimately can’t tell where one ends and the next one begins.
I asked my boyfriend what he thought of Mayan Chocolate. Here is how it went.
Boyfriend: Very rich. Very savory. (Puzzled look.) Something like… Basil?
Sophie (aside): A fascinating interpretation of the green, sweet, and spicy elements at play.
Boyfriend: It’s like a savory cup of coffee.
Sophie (to Boyfriend): It’s Mayan Chocolate.
A few hours pass. It is time for lunch.
Boyfriend (sniffing with the air of someone who is hungry for lunch): You smell like chili peppers.
More hours pass. Late at night. Sophie has just returned home from an open mic event populated almost entirely by insufferable men in slouchy hats.
Boyfriend (sniffing with the air of someone who wants to eat Sophie alive): It’s a lot sweeter now. That’s nice. You smell like chocolate. I like this one. This is a good perfume.
As Mayan Chocolate transitions into the drydown, the black pepper edge fades away entirely. What’s left is a warm chocolate that gets progressively softer and sweeter in a way that feels like a unique and deserved treat. While it still never goes at all dessert-sugary-gourmand-chocolate sweet, the base of the perfume holds some absolutely delicious faintly sweet chocolate muskiness. I’m reminded more than ever of the smell of cocoa butter, rich and fluffy and sweet, though by now it’s rather faint. There’s a musky quality to it all as well as a very subtle hint of smokiness somewhere in the background.
On my skin, the smokiest moments of Mayan Chocolate were honestly the moments of prominent paprika in the first hours. Supposedly there’s a rich incense in the base of the perfume, built on revered woods like palo santo and copal. On my skin, though, this incense is subdued. It’s more of a texture of dark grainy woods than an actual aroma of smoke.
By the drydown, I don’t get much incense smoke, just a rich, musky, cocoa-buttery chocolate. Perhaps it’s diffused by hints of something like labdanum or benzoin, and maybe even the most restrained and subtle hint of something like vanilla. But Mayan Chocolate remains reserved and pared back. At this stage, it’s not trying to do any backflips. This is just the pure, quiet, contemplative pleasure of cocoa.
While that black pepper note is a bit challenging, Mayan Chocolate is a perfume that makes me simply dizzy with pleasure. I’m looking forward to wearing it every chance I get in cold weather, when its luxurious creamy facets really bloom. Even as we approach summer, though, I’m going to find myself reaching for it again. That warm spiced chocolate just feels so incredibly rich, so full-bodied, so alive.
Even in its flattest moments, Mayan Chocolate makes me smile. That’s the thing about chocolate, eh? It can get dull at times, yet it’s so very easy to love. In these dullest moments it reminds me of a very chocolate-scented hotel I stayed in frequently in high school as part of a particular extracurricular that hosted all of their state events there. It doesn’t replicate that fake room spray chocolate scent very well at all — oddly enough, I get that kind of sticky sweet faux chocolate scent from the opoponax-laced base of Guerlain’s Shalimar. No, Mayan Chocolate reminds me of the realest moments, the most realistic facets of the chocolate smell. It reminds me of the feeling of being surrounded by a flat but comforting simulacrum of chocolate. It’s a warm, happy, nostalgic sort of feeling.
The performance, projection, and longevity of Mayan Chocolate are absolutely phenomenal. I don’t have a ton of experience with oil-based perfumes. I’d assumed this would be a muted sort of scent that stays close to the skin. When I dashed just a hint of Mayan Chocolate onto my wrist before rushing into an online meeting, I hadn’t actually expected to really smell it.
But immediately, that tiny amount of Mayan Chocolate on my wrist wafted up at me as much as if it were around my neck or chest. It was powerful, ebullient, feisty, warm. It felt buttery-smooth and all-encompassing, like I’d been wrapped up in a cocoon of Mayan Chocolate. Just from the tiniest swipe of it on one wrist. I’m not someone who really cares about the projection and volume of a fragrance, but I was honestly wowed here. Really and truly, a little of this goes a very, very long way.
Mayan Chocolate lasts around ten to twelve hours. From start to finish, it’s rich and velvety-smooth, carefully constructed with each phase melting seamlessly into the next. The perfume feels warmer and more intimate than an alcohol-based composition would. It feels like it’s seeping right into the heart of me.
And, while it won’t project across a room, you’ll be able to smell Mayan Chocolate on yourself all day. I don’t know about you, but that’s how I like my perfumes. I wear them for me and the very few people who get to hug me, not for my coworker sitting on the other side of the dilapidated conference room that serves as our office.
Alcohol-based perfumes with quiet projection sometimes feel weak, frail, detached. They feel disjointed, like they’re failing at something, falling behind the expectations set by that sharp first puff of scent. Here, though, the quiet warmth of Mayan Chocolate feels like it’s by design. And, though it wears close to the skin, the scent is plenty strong to me and the people that matter all day.
The concept behind Mayan Chocolate is clever. It doesn’t face the same pitfalls as typical gourmand chocolate scents that replicate a sweet chocolate that everyone knows and recognizes. It’s so easy for those to come across as fake, ludicrous, and cheap because it’s a scent and taste that’s very familiar to most, and it’s hard to get exactly right, leading many to overcompensate with sugar. Mayan Chocolate goes the other way, embodying the ancient Mayan Xocoatl, a drink of unsweetened chocolate prepared for nobility.
It’s a precise gourmand experience most of us aren’t familiar with, granting more leeway for experimentation around a theme rather than an obligation to get it exactly right. And, being unsweetened, it sidesteps the sticky melting saccharine fate of so many chocolate perfumes.
Mayan Chocolate is a simple yet unexpected sublime pleasure. A subversion of cultural expectations of chocolate. A slow drop of dreamy, musky sweet cocoa butter. A return to our roots, buried squarely in jungles and bitterness and spice.